"Where's the paper?" Jimmy asks intently. "I need to check something."
Given the onset of the college basketball season, Jimmy typically would be hunting down yesterday's NCAA scoreboard. But since this is the weekend when roughly 327 pounds of advertising circulars are included in our Sunday paper, it's more likely my teenage son wants to know if the Xbox 360 is on sale at any of the big box department stores.
Not that Jimmy has the money to buy such a thing. He's holding out hope that good old mom and dad, in our quest to assure his happiness this Christmas season, will somehow reverse our long-held stance that one gaming system in the house is enough. He already owns a PlayStation 2, and even though it's not state-of-the-art, it plays games.
Jimmy flips through the pages of ads for all the big electronics stores, sighing deeply at photos of games and monitors and accessories. He says hopeful things such as, "The Xbox 360 has sweet graphics, and it's not that expensive when you consider how much use I'd get out of it."
Thoughtful of him to reassure us that our investment would be worthwhile, isn't it?
I suppose a fancy new electronic game system would make my son happy. It certainly would elicit that "dance around the living room" response we all love to receive on Christmas morning. Not to mention, Jimmy could extend his Christmas joy each time he got the chance to brag to a friend about his new "sweet graphics" and improved gaming capacity.
I'm sure he'd be grateful. In fact, I'm sure Jimmy would conclude he has the coolest, most wonderful parents on the planet.
Despite these certain benefits of buying my son his dream gift, I'm also sure we're not going to do it.
One gaming system in the house is enough, remember? Besides, what we'd get with another gaming system is a son who spends more time playing electronic games.
It's enough of a battle to keep some balance in Jimmy's leisure activities without adding the magnetic attraction of a system with sweet graphics.
I realize I'm risking disappointment on Christmas morning, but it's a risk I'm willing to take in favor of more genuine happiness down the road.
This won't be the first time – or even the first Christmas – when I've shied away from giving my children the very things they believe will make them happy.
Just a week ago, my 10-year-old thought a Saturday night sleepover would bring happiness. I thought it would bring a cranky Sunday, so I said no.
My high school junior recently thought happiness would come if I loaded her and a cadre of friends into our van and drove them to a rock concert some 90 miles away.
I risked her unhappiness and declined (tempting as it was to stand by myself at the back of a concert hall with earplugs in place, monitoring a gaggle of teenage girls).
Our college freshman has lobbied several times this semester for an airline ticket to fly home for an extra weekend, claiming this would not only make her happy but prevent her from being unhappy – and lonely – at school. Much as I'd like to assure her contentment, I'm not spending hundreds on a ticket home.
Am I a big meanie or what? Recently, I read about a study commissioned by MTV and Associated Press that found the greatest sources of happiness in the lives of 12- to 24-year-olds were family, friends and spirituality. I wasn't surprised by this result (though the folks who took the survey seemed to be).
Even in our consumer-driven culture where happiness seems to be available in the pages of a tree's worth of advertising circulars in the Sunday paper, teens know what matters most and how to find real joy in life.
Must be I'm not the only mom out there saying no and expecting my children to be happy just the same.